I walked. Not directly to the Old City, that would be too easy. I took a right to the Russian Neighborhood where that German guy pointed (he actually just entered the room, funny how that happens…), the one who lent me his passport so I could check in since you need an Israeli stamp to show that you’re a tourist and my passport is still at the Indian embassy (more on that later) (although I’m not sure why it would matter if you’re a local).
Quickly I found myself in a neighborhood where everyone was Orthodox. There was a long downhill alley and a man I decided to follow took a left, past a sign that said Please Dress Modestly, immodest clothing offends our residents. As I walked in, I had a feeling of discomfort, as though everyone knew a goy had entered their space. It was like when I led Mom and Julie into the Red Hook projects and we were catcalled by a faceless girl at a window. My unsettlement passed when I thought of my (maybe Orthodox) beard and my hoodie-covered head. That was modest. No one was out except a blue-eyed child removing scraps of Hebrew wheatpasted posters with a broom. Voices and smells of dinner floated from the huts.
I continued on, reaching a main street after walking through arches, down, left, right, always descending, past bookstores, yeshivas and falafel restaurants. I thought about how I deliberately didn’t take the map from the hostel’s front desk. This was so much more interesting, this was why I left Tel Aviv, so I could get lost, and be lonely. I finally emerged at the bottom of the hill across from nice-looking hotels. A highway held me back. I had to walk up the hill a little before I could cross. I walked around the American consulate, and into the Leonardo to use the bathroom. My cheeks were pretty pink. It was cold outside, here in this mountain town. When I came back out I realized I was near the Muslim quarter, due to the prevalence of Arabic signage. I followed a historic site sign to the Garden Tomb, assuming that would lead me closer to the Old City.
Turns out the Garden Tomb could be where Jesus was buried. I entered through the Damascus Gate, the largest of the gates and the main entrance to the Old City. I walked in wonder past the vendors and buskers, past the Arabic signs advertising pastries and goodies, cheap electronics and children’s clothing. I wondered how it would be next week in Cairo, if it would be as easy as this, if the Arabs’ eyes would be as kind. I saw a dark alley. That was where I wanted to go, away from all the junk. Give me the Old City!
I turned and walked down. It seemed that there were only two ways to go in the Old City — up or down, ascending or descending. Down into a quieter street, past pizza shops advertising beagles (bagels) gold (cold) drinks and kebabs. Then, a street sign showing the Via Dolorosa, where Christ carried his cross. It was steep. No wonder he’s crying in all those depictions, the cross must have been even heavier walking up this mini-mountain. Past the stores selling Orthodox icons and even an antiques shop. Jerusalem antiques ain’t old lawnmowers, these antiques are really old, ancient clay pots and figurines. Soon I was in the Christian Quarter, in front of a sign pointing to the Church of the Sepulcher. But I would do that tomorrow. I realized how tired I was. Time for a way out.
I followed a woman wearing what looked like an expensive white fur coat. Maybe she was staying at one of those nice hotels. She took a right up a dark alley. I, about twenty feet behind, did too. A cat picked at bones, nearly started as I walked past, and stayed, dedicated to its prize. Spilled espresso on the wall. Dead end, door open. I walked through the open door into what appeared to be a neighborhood. It was dark, save for the lights glowing behind open screened windows. I remembered that people live here. I didn’t want to trespass; I’d already done that once tonight. I turned around and followed someone else but we were going downhill again. Wrong way. No more following people. I turned around, past a prefecture, some English speakers, and asked a man coming out of a church. He pointed. The New Gate was right there.
I was hungry. Hungry for hubke, those meat-filled dumplings in soup we had last week with Ziv. It was cold. I needed soup. I asked a woman at a cafe, who had come outside to re-set the empty tables. “Do you know where I can get hubke,” I asked. “No,” she looked at me blankly. “What kind of food is it?” “Israeli.” A pause. “Ah, kubbe! Just go down there,” she said, “There is a nice place with kubbe for 20 or 30 shekels.” I went but the place was too nice. Kubbe wasn’t even on the menu. I kept walking, kept asking. I walked up Jaffa street, paralleling the light rails. I passed the turn to my hostel. I walked into the next shawarma joint, exhausted, hungry. With gall I asked the proprietor where was the nearest restaurant that serves kubbe. “Not now,” he said, “Tomorrow.” Fed up, I ordered. “Hummus, hot sauce?” “Everything.” I’ll get the kubbe tomorrow.